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City leaders unveil future plans for the Grand River

The 'River For All' project will begin once the restoration of the rapids is complete.

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. - Hundreds gathered at Devos Place Thursday to learn of the city's future plans for Grand Rapids' riverfront.

"We've long turned our back on the Grand River," said Matt Chapman, the project manager of Grand Rapids Whitewater.

Whitewater is working to restore the rapids by removing current dams and replacing them with gravel and boulders. The group has finally secured most of the $44 million necessary to complete the project, so Chapman said they hope to begin construction as early as this year.

Once construction on the river is complete, the city will begin work on the land surrounding it. The 'River For All' is a concept shaped by community members and city leaders that will completely re-imagine the riverfront experience. There will be six sites along a 7 mile stretch flanking the Grand River corridor where the city will be creating space for things like an outdoor amphitheater, bars and restaurants and kid friendly recreational areas.

"The typical flood walls that we see up and down the park sides in Grand Rapids right now, those are likely to be removed and re-sculpted in a way where we’ve got stepped and terrace seating," said Grand Rapids Parks and Recreation Director David Marquardt.

Fish Ladder Park will remain in place, but the area around it will receive an upgrade to make it safer and more family friendly. The Coldbrook Decommissioned Water Pumping Station will be turned into a completely accessible area with a sculpture park for kids. The decommissioned water storage yard will be turned into a riverfront wedding venue.

"The Grand River really historically has been somewhat of an underutilized asset because of its limited access, because of the flood control, because of the lack of real safety. And the plans that have been unveiled today really begin to re-imagine that entirely," said Marquardt.

Project leaders say the goal is to make the riverfront more accessible and safe. Latesha Lipscomb, who does community engagement for the city's planning department, asked city leaders Thursday how they planned to make this space an equitable one. Based on their responses regarding future conversations with the community, Lipscomb said she is very hopeful for the future on multiple fronts.

"The city of Grand Rapids has really been making an extra effort to engage the community and figure out what their wants and needs are," Lipscomb said.

"I think a lot of stakeholders are recognizing that when you include people before you make decisions, when you touch base at a grass roots level before you reach grass tops - the outcome is much, much better and you get better outcomes for all people."

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Emma Nicolas is a multimedia journalist. Have a news tip or question for Emma? Get in touch by email enicolas@wzzm13.com, Facebook or Twitter.